Clause 422 - Further disclosure

Part of Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:30 pm ar 31 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Ceidwadwyr, Spelthorne 3:30, 31 Ionawr 2002

Yes, I was getting carried away. The enthusiasm of my argument led me not to think too carefully about how I phrased it. I shall slow down and measure my words with more care.

My point was not that you, Mr. McWilliam, would launder money, but that it would be possible for someone to spot a possible loophole and say, ''I want to launder money''--I have not laundered money, but ''I'' is easier, and will not fall foul of your strictures--''and if I can involve a sensitive security matter in the process, I might get away with it, because the person who wants to release information will have to attach conditions that specify that it cannot be used.'' Is that really what the Minister wants? Is he suggesting that if we can find an embarrassing, awkward, secretive way of doing it, it will be impossible to pass on the information? What does he have in mind?

The provision might provide a loophole for the prosecuting authorities, and I am sure that that was not intended. What would happen if the person released the information but the attached condition was a ban on releasing it to a court or to the defendant's lawyers? Under the provision, such a condition could be attached. Nothing excludes it.

We return to the issues with which we dealt this morning. I shall not repeat them, but people cannot unknow what they know.

Under the provisions, it is perfectly possible, if the information is sensitive or embarrassing, to allow the release of information to the director on condition that he not release it to the defendant's lawyers. What would happen? The prosecution would proceed, and the defendant would not know what the information was. People would not necessarily rely on it in giving evidence, but it would underpin the arguments developed, and great strength would be drawn from being able to use that information but being under an obligation not to pass it on. If it were to crop up in the future, the prosecuting authorities, the director--or whoever else--could say, ''Yes, I realise that it probably could have been passed to the defence, and that it probably should have been, but this Act prevented me from doing that.'' Would we not then have handed to the prosecuting authorities and the director a good way of ensuring that justice is not done?

With regard to many of the Committee's discussions, there has been an underlying sense that we are stacking the odds so much in favour of the state, the prosecuting authorities or the director that we are undermining the principles of justice. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) is not present, because he would have wished to have intervened on that point, and I would have been happy to tell him, yet again, that he is wrong--that he does not need to try to create a Gestapo state to look after those of his constituents who get done over by drug barons.

Will the Minister provide examples of the conditions that might be attached? I want him to reassure us that we are not creating a loophole, by allowing the security services to withhold information, whereby criminals could avoid prosecution by doing things in such a way that the authorities would not act, because they would not be prepared to release certain kinds of information. Above all, I want him to explain why I should not be worried about information being withheld from the court and from defendants.